ALBANY, N.Y. – It went down to the wire, but on the last day of New York's 2011 legislative session, the state Senate voted 33-29 late Friday to approve a bill that will give gays and lesbians the right to marry.
Loud applause broke out in the chamber, and the news quickly spread to the halls, where screams of joy were heard.
The state Assembly voted 80-63 last week in favor of the bill, and voted again tonight, 82-48, to approve last-minute amendments to the bill to add protections for religious faiths, benevolent associations and non-profits that might not want to be involved in gay weddings. LGBT groups did not object to the amended bill.
Same-sex marriages will likely begin 30 days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law.
The historical vote came almost 42 years to the date when the Stonewall Riots occurred on June 28, 1969, launching the gay civil rights movement. And it came on the weekend of New York City's Gay Pride celebration, which marks that inspirational moment in LGBT history.
As word spread that the vote was to be conducted in Albany, huge crowds began gathering in Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, packing Christopher Street and the Stonewall Inn to celebrate the momentous occasion. Bars were crowded in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen, as gays and lesbians anticipated the moment.
Public opinion polls showed that 58% of New Yorkers favor marriage equality.
New York will become the sixth state to allow marriage equality, joining Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The District of Columbia also offers marriage equality.
Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey permit civil unions.
California remains in limbo on marriage equality. About 18,000 same-sex couples married in California in 2008, when marriage equality was legal, but voters in November of that year narrowly passed Proposition 8, which took away same-sex marriages. Last year, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, and that historic ruling was appealed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing the case, awaiting a ruling in September from the California Supreme Court on the matter of standing on whether anyone other than the State of California or California State Attorney has the right to appeal the Walker ruling. Neither the State of California nor the California State Attorney supported the appeal, and many legal scholars believe that Proposition 8 supporters have no legal standing to appeal.
Meanwhile, 39 states have bans on same-sex marriage.
The dramatic, last-minute New York vote came after days of backroom deal-making by Republicans, who control the Senate. The foot-dragging turned Albany into a three-ring circus after supporters on both sides flooded the historical city and jammed hallways leading to the Senate chamber. Political experts said the bill lacked one vote for passage, and some of the Republicans who had declared they were undecided were lobbying behind the scenes to get their pet projects green-lighted.
The national and international media focused on the New York vote because the Empire State would become the largest state to allow same-sex marriage. Hate groups poured huge sums of money and sent numerous supporters to Albany to fight against marriage equality, while equality-rights groups and their allies rallied their troops.
The Senate negotiated additional religious protections in the bill to placate Republicans who were undecided. That appeared to be the tipping point in the debate, and paved way for passage of marriage equality.
And on a poignant note, just moments before the Senate vote, New York Assemblymember Daniel J. O'Donnell of Manhattan, who championed the bill in the Assembly, got engaged to John Banta, his partner of 31 years.
The reactions to the New York vote
"Winning the freedom to marry in New York truly is a transformative moment for committed couples and for our country, a triumph for love and equality under the law,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and President of Freedom to Marry. “Now that we’ve made it here, we’ll make it everywhere -- and as Americans’ hearts open and minds continue to change in favor of the freedom to marry, the momentum coming from New York’s giant step forward brings a nationwide end to marriage discrimination closer than ever.”
“New Yorkers have plenty to celebrate this Pride Month. There’s no doubt that today will be revered as a major turning point in civil rights history. A bipartisan group of legislators have affirmed that equal rights for every citizen is not a partisan issue, but an American value," said Chad Griffin, co-founder and board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). “Yet for millions of Americans who do not live in New York, Washington DC, or the five other states that have recognized the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian Americans, they are still suffering the injustice of discrimination every day.
“This is a profoundly moving and historic moment for New York. … This vote affirms our common humanity. It means same-sex couples will no longer have to cross state lines to marry. It means New York lives up to its reputation as a national leader. It honors New York’s unique history as being the place where the modern gay rights movement sprang to life," said Rea Carey, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
"At the heart of this vote are loving and committed New Yorkers who simply want the same thing all Americans want: the ability to take care of the people they love and to protect their families," said Herndon Graddick, GLAAD's senior director of programs. "Gay and lesbian New Yorkers are now one step closer to the vital legal protections that marriage affords and which all couples need. GLAAD applauds the work of our partners at the Empire State Pride Agenda, Marriage Equality New York, Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Log Cabin Republicans and the couples whose personal stories have moved lawmakers to support this historic legislation. GLAAD encourages media reporting on this story to ground their coverage in the stories of the New York couples whose love and commitment is at the heart of today's decision."
"New York legislators have reached across the aisle so that loving, committed same-sex couples can walk down the aisle and finally live their happily ever after. We look forward to the day when Proposition 8 is struck down for good, so that we can truly have marriage equality from sea to shining sea," said Stuart Gaffney, Marriage Equality USA’s media director.
"History was made today in the New York State Senate, and Log Cabin Republicans are proud to have played such an important role in making that history with an unprecedented coalition of allies," said Gregory T. Angelo, Log Cabin Republicans of New York state chairman. "We wish to thank our dedicated members for their diligence, persistence and patience -- it has been a long time coming, but today Republicans in the New York State Senate stood up for true conservative values: individual liberty, personal freedom and equal rights for all, and we thank them for voting on the right side of history."
“The historic vote in New York demonstrates the power of coalition,” said Rick Jacobs, the chair and founder of the 700,000-member Courage Campaign. “My hat's off to the entire community that worked so closely together to win as a sign that we have grown up. Marriage in the third most populous state changes lives for New York and the nation. The real effect, though, is on legislators, judges and justices nationally and here in California. Anyone who supports the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or opposes equality in the courts is out of step with America and with history. In states like Tennessee, the band of right-wingers that seeks to ban the word "gay," will be remembered as were their ancestors at the Scopes Monkey Trial. The time for legal discrimination ended today.”
"History was made today in New York. This victory sends a message that marriage equality across the country will be a reality very soon," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
"The path to equality in New York, like in other states, has had twists and turns. In 2004, Lambda Legal brought a marriage equality lawsuit in state court (Hernandez v. Robles), and while we won an early victory at the trial court, that decision was later overturned. But we never stopped fighting for the rights of same-sex couples and their families in New York. We won legal battles to establish recognition of out-of-state marriages, and just last year, we won a high court decision protecting the parental rights of a lesbian mother," said Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal. "Equality carries momentum. Same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in two out of three of the states in the tri-state area, and it’s time for New Jersey to catch up. We will soon be in New Jersey to announce the next chapter of our work to bring marriage equality to that state."
“This is a historic day for our movement and for New Yorkers who will finally be able to enjoy the same freedom to decide whether and who to marry that other New Yorkers have long enjoyed. All couples deserve to express their love and commitment through marriage if they choose to do so, and today’s vote is one more step toward recognizing the true diversity of families and the full equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people nationwide,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of National Center for Lesbian Rights.